Monday March 27th 2023

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Lawrence Wenell, a superior soldier and civilian, remembered.


Lawrence Wenell had an elementary-school education. He loved baseball, and according to his mother, he was very good at it.

Private Carl Wenell laying flowers at the grave of his brother Lawrence Wenell.: Courtesy Wenell family

Lawrence was born on July 5, 1893, the oldest of August and Laura Wenell”™s fourteen children. He attended Irving School, which has since been demolished, but which was located on the corner of 17th Avenue and 28th Street. By the time that he was 17 years old he was working as a “shirt cutter,” for the Wyman-Partridge Company. In June 1917, he enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to the Battery C 151st Field Artillery, also known as the Gopher Gunners, part of the Rainbow Division. His unit sailed from New York on October 18, 1917, aboard the President Lincoln.

Less than five months later, on March 9, 1918, his parents received a telegram from the War Department notifying them that their son had been seriously wounded. By the time that the telegram reached them Lawrence had already died. He suffered a skull fracture and broken neck when a shell near him exploded. He was the first young man from Minneapolis to die from injuries received during World War I. The French government honored him with a Croix de Guerre.

The Wenell family were active members of St. Paul”™s Lutheran Church (located at the corner of 15th Avenue and 28th Street). During a memorial service for Lawrence, Emmanuel O. Stone, the church”™s pastor “spoke highly of Wenell”™s superior qualities as both a soldier and a civilian” More than 800 mourners attended the service.

Lawrence was initially interred in Baccarat, France shortly after he died. He was disinterred and reburied in a second soldiers”™ cemetery in France on February 7, 1921. The French government was initially reluctant to share responsibility for sending the bodies of the estimated 100,000 Americans who died in France home, but finally agreed. Lawrence was one of the more than 40,000 soldiers sent back to his family. On November 8, 1921, he was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis

In 1924, American Legion Post #223 was named the Lawrence Wenell Post in his honor. The Post was located at the intersection of Bloomington and Lake Street where The Family Partnership now stands until it merged with American Legion Post #1 in the 1970s. The Post was known for its charitable work and for sponsoring neighborhood activities such as the Powderhorn Park Speed Skating Competition.

Once the war ended, there were discussions across the country about how best to honor those who had died during the war. Victory Memorial Drive, which was dedicated in 1921, is one permanent reminder and Lawrence”™s is one of 568 crosses set to honor those who died in World War I.

Bronze medallion marking the spot where a tree was planted in Minneapolis
Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery by Lawrence Wenell American Legion Post #233.

There were other reminders as well although they turned out to be less permanent. On September 18, 1938, members of Lawrence Wenell Post #233, members of Giant Valley Post, and officers from the Minneapolis Cemetery Protective Association presided over a tree planting at Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. The tree is gone but a bronze medallion which marks the spot where the tree was planted remains.

Lawrence was not the only member of his family to serve with distinction. His younger brother Carl also served in the 151st Rainbow Battalion. He served in the medical corps and was given the Distinguished Service Cross for treating and rescuing men during a heavy artillery bombardment. He returned home to a hero”™s welcome but it must have been bittersweet since his brother was not there with him. Carl joined the police force and lived in Minneapolis until his death in 1952.

If you pay a visit to the cemetery and are patient, you might spot the medallion. It”™s in section M.

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